TAMPA, Fla. - Chip Kelly has been consistent when it comes to the topic of his starting quarterback, whoever it might actually be at the moment.
Kelly says that his offense, the way it is designed, can be run just as efficiently and successfully by either Mike Vick or Nick Foles. If James Casey, the team's emergency quarterback, ever gets in there, it's possible the Eagles will still ring up 30-some points and 400 yards. Maybe the bag boy at the Acme could do the same thing. That's the way the coach makes it sound.
Just to prove Kelly's point, Foles started in place of Vick on Sunday and not only did he lead the team to a 31-20 win against a supposedly stout Tampa Bay defense, he scored the game's first touchdown on a quarterback draw and completed two more touchdowns in the second half on passes deep into the defense.
That might be the coach's way of emphasizing his point after a long week of hearing that without Vick the Eagles would also be without the threat of a quarterback run or the quick-strike capability of a quarterback with a big arm. Oh, is that a fact? Kelly had all the answers for those suppositions on Sunday.
"What we do offensively, we don't change," Kelly said. "I think we played the normal, same offense we've run the first six games. What was different about today's game was we did a good job in the turnover battle. We didn't throw any interceptions and we were able to convert in the red zone. We put in a lot of time in practice to make sure we executed down there."
Foles not only got the job done, he left little to criticize. He got rid of the ball, threw it accurately, avoided or withstood pressure when necessary, and ran the offense at pretty close to the pace the coach desires. All of that will make Kelly's decision easier if Vick is a coin flip to return from his hamstring injury by next Sunday's home game against the Cowboys.
Kelly is smart enough to let the coming week play out just the way the previous one did, if that is his intention. Foles will get the first-team reps, Vick will practice as well, and Kelly will give the wait-and-see. Hamstrings are slow to fully heal and there would be nothing wrong with giving Vick another week to recover.
Plus, Foles earned another week as the starter. He clearly did that, and not just because of the 22-for-31 day throwing the ball or the 133.3 passer rating. It was his overall command of the game, particularly in the second half, when Kelly opened up what had been a dink-and-dunk attack and asked Foles to extend the field against the Bucs.
Kelly has also been consistent in saying that the players are the ones who determine their own playing time by their actions on the field. The message to the locker room if Foles starts against the Cowboys is that he wasn't kidding about that. Play well and you keep playing. Not a single player would grumble if Foles was allowed to keep the dice after the hot roll against Tampa Bay.
"I don't look at Nick as a backup," said DeSean Jackson, who had the first multiple touchdown-catch game of his career. "He's played with the [first team] so much during the offseason and through training camp that he's very familiar with the guys we have. I think he did a great job today and he's just getting better."
"Nick always keeps his composure and knows his stuff," guard Todd Herremans said. "We were able to operate the offense as we have been if not better this week. And the real icing on the cake was when we had to run the ball and burn the time out, we were able to do that."
So, the Eagles were able to do all the things against Tampa Bay that they weren't supposed to be able do with Foles as quarterback. They weren't supposed to be able to run the ball because the defense could focus solely on LeSean McCoy. Well, McCoy gained 116 yards. They weren't supposed to use the quarterback as a running weapon. Foles took that draw untouched into the end zone. They weren't supposed to be able to throw deep. Foles hit Riley Cooper with a beautiful 47-yard touchdown pass to give the Eagles back the lead for good and then followed that up with a delicate 36-yarder to Jackson.
The fact is that Tampa Bay isn't a very good team, and its defense might not be what it's been cracked up to be, either. The Eagles have gotten two of their three wins against winless teams and the other against a Redskins team that went into Sunday night's game against Dallas with just one win. That makes it hard to tell how good the Eagles are, too, and that's another reason why Foles should get the call against the Cowboys. Let's see if he can do the same thing again. Then it will really get interesting.
"No matter what happens, I'm going to be the same person. I know who I am," Foles said.
Right now, until replaced, he's the starting quarterback of the Eagles. He might as well be, since the coach says it really doesn't matter.